Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Gang of Five, and How They Nearly Ruined Us

The little-known reason why investment banks got too big, too greedy, too risky, and too powerful.

The surviving investment banks are bristling at efforts aimed at recouping taxpayer losses and forestalling a repeat of the panic of 2008: congression­al proposals to tax bonuses, President Obama's planned tax on large banks' liabilities, and his suggestion that banks be prohibited from using taxpayer-insured funds for proprietary trading. That last proposal would " restrict lending, increase risk, decrease stability in the system, and limit our ability to help create jobs," says Steve Bartlett, CEO of the Financial Serv­ices Roundtable, the trade group for megabanks.

State of the Union: A Status Report on the Far Right

As long as we're taking the measure of the country this week, let's look in on the far (and not so far) fringes of the right wing. What's up with them? And how worried should we be?

For the past several months, I've been trying to get a bead on the actual numbers of the far-right movement. To that end, I accrued a motley little collection of surveys, studies, and sociological research pulled together from here and there. I've been sort of walking around this pile, kicking at it, figuring out which pieces fit together, in the hope of getting a handle on exactly how many really scary people there are out there right now. It seemed like an important question to get answered.

Finally, I did what I should have done on Day One. I picked up the phone and called Chip Berlet [1] of Political Research Associates, who knows more about the hard research on the far right than anyone else in the country.

President Obama rumbles with House GOP

BALTIMORE — President Barack Obama on Friday accused Republicans of portraying health care reform as a "Bolshevik plot" and telling their constituents that he’s "doing all kinds of crazy stuff that's going to destroy America."

Speaking to House Republicans at their annual policy retreat here, Obama said that over-the-top GOP attacks on him and his agenda have made it virtually impossible for Republicans to address the nation’s problems in a bipartisan way.

Secret Banking Cabal Emerges From AIG Shadows: David Reilly

Commentary by David Reilly

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The idea of secret banking cabals that control the country and global economy are a given among conspiracy theorists who stockpile ammo, bottled water and peanut butter. After this week’s congressional hearing into the bailout of American International Group Inc., you have to wonder if those folks are crazy after all.

Wednesday’s hearing described a secretive group deploying billions of dollars to favored banks, operating with little oversight by the public or elected officials.

Gregg Throws A Hissy Fit When Asked To Provide Specifics About Programs He Would Cut

On MSNBC this afternoon, deficit peacock Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) got into a heated exchange with anchors Contessa Brewer and Melissa Francis, challenging their “integrity” and calling them “irresponsible” and “duplicitous” after they tried to get him to offer specific ways he would cut spending to lower the deficit.

Asked about the money President Obama is proposing to spend on jobs and whether it should “go hand and hand with other programs that integrate job training, vocational skills and certainly educating very young people,” Gregg responded with his usual complaints about government spending and his desire to “control the rate of growth of government.”

Paul Krugman: March of the Peacocks

Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference between true deficit hawks and showy “deficit peacocks.” You can identify deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

One week later, in the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.

Wait, it gets worse. To justify the freeze, Mr. Obama used language that was almost identical to widely ridiculed remarks early last year by John Boehner, the House minority leader. Boehner then: “American families are tightening their belt, but they don’t see government tightening its belt.” Obama now: “Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

Scott Roeder found guilty of first-degree murder in Tiller killing

WICHITA, Kan. — After 37 minutes of deliberation, a jury today found Scott Roeder guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.

Jurors also convicted Roeder of two counts of aggravated assault for threatening two men who chased him as he fled Tiller’s church after the shooting.

Sedgwick County District Judge Warren Wilbert set Roeder’s sentencing for March 9. Roeder faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Accused Louisiana Co-Conspirator Helped Run Academic Program Funded by U.S. Intelligence

Mark Hosenball

One of four men arrested on Tuesday for attempting to interfere with the telephones at the New Orleans office of Sen. Mary Landrieu previously worked for a U.S. intelligence-funded program to train would-be American spies, Declassified has learned.

Between August 2007 and October 2008, Stanley Dai served as assistant director of a program called the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence at Trinity Washington University, a small Catholic college in Washington D.C., according to a school official. The official, university vice president Ann Pauley, said that the program was completely funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She said the purpose of the program was to expose both undergraduates and graduate students at the university to the work of the intelligence community and to prepare them for possible careers in intelligence. As a result of the program, Pauley said, the university established a master's degree program in intelligence and security studies. She added that the government grant funding the program ended in 2008.

How Members of Congress Are Advancing Anti-Muslim Hysteria to Push a Radical Legal Agenda

Islamophobes in Congress like Joe Lieberman are trying to set the U.S. on a path to establish a different set of legal standards for Muslims.

January 28, 2010

Roughly one month after the massacre at Fort Hood and a little over a week after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (the "underwear bomber") tried to blow himself up over the city of Detroit, one of the most conservative Republicans in the Congress, South Carolina Representative Gresham Barrett, re-introduced a sweeping piece of legislation that he first rolled out in 2003 as a freshman on Capitol Hill.

The Stop Terrorists Entry Program (STEP) Act was originally introduced on September 11 (naturally), 2003 "to bar the admission of aliens from countries determined to be state sponsors of terrorism, and for other purposes." At the time, these countries included Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Iraq and Cuba. The bill not only sought to bar presumed enemies of the state from entering the U.S., it also would have forced "nonimmigrant aliens" -- visitors with a temporary visa -- to leave the country, within 60 days of its passage.

Elizabeth Warren on the Great Economic Battlefield: Protecting the Middle Class from Financial Predators

A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency can save the middle class. Elizabeth Warren explains how.

January 28, 2010

For years, federal banking regulators at the Office of Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), the Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) and the Federal Reserve helped the nation's largest banks wage war on the U.S. middle class. But President Barack Obama wants to change all that with a new regulator that answers exclusively to consumers, not bank balance sheets. AlterNet economics editor Zach Carter discussed the proposal to establish a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) with the woman who came up with the idea, Harvard University Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren. After defending the American middle class for decades, Warren currently chairs the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The Big Theories Underwriting Society Are Crashing All Around Us -- Are You Ready for a New World?

The ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down -- and that's a good thing, say authors Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman.

January 27, 2010

Economic meltdown ... environmental crises ... seemingly endless warfare. The world is in critical condition. Bad news? Good news? Or both?

Many of the ideas and institutions that define our culture are breaking down -- and that's a good thing, say Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman. In their new book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future and a Way to Get There from Here, they write that today's crises are part of a natural process -- clearing out what no longer serves us to make room for a new way of being. Are they cockeyed optimists or do they see things others miss?

Volcker - time for real change

By Henry CK Liu

United States President Barack Obama announced on January 21 that he had accepted the advice of two prominent Republican big names in finance in an apparent renewed effort to appeal for bipartisan support. The move came two days after the Democrats' disastrous election loss, to a mostly unknown Republican candidate, of a senate seat long held by the late Edward Kennedy and critical for maintaining a filibuster-proof majority.

The president told the nation on television: "I just had a very productive meeting with two members of my Economic Recovery Advisory Board: Paul Volcker, who's the former chair of the Federal Reserve Board; and Bill Donaldson, previously the head of the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission]. And I deeply appreciate the counsel of these two leaders and the board that they've offered as we have dealt with a broad array of very difficult economic challenges."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Don't Waste the Crisis!

Six strategies that could save Obama's ambitious reform agenda.

As he prepares for a difficult State of the Union address, President Obama should take small solace in the oft-quoted and accurate observation of his predecessor Theodore Roosevelt that "[i]t is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes [up] short again and again … but who does actually strive to do the deeds."

President Obama is in the arena, one that may now feel like the Roman Colosseum, surrounded if not by lions then by second guessers, wavering allies, and gloating Republicans. Dire as things may seem, he should recall that poll numbers are like bungee jumps—the public mood will swing wildly and rapidly, often for reasons that do not fit into the rational and fact-based world with which Obama seems most comfortable.

American opinion cools on global warming

New Haven, Conn.--Public concern about global warming has dropped sharply since the fall of 2008, according to a national survey released today by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities.

The survey found: Only 50 percent of Americans now say they are "somewhat" or "very worried" about global warming, a 13-point decrease.

The percentage of Americans who think global warming is happening has declined 14 points, to 57 percent.

Thomas Frank: Centrism Died in Massachusetts

The surprising results of last week's special Senate election in Massachusetts have exposed all manner of Beltway shortcomings, but none so forcefully as the terminal exhaustion of the professional pundit corps.

Consider the wretchedness of the advice presently coming in from all quarters of the Washington establishment. It might be summed up as follows: The Democratic candidate for Ted Kennedy's old seat was beaten by a Republican, Scott Brown. Only one conclusion can be drawn from this, apparently: that the public has gone decisively to the right. Ergo, so must the president. Barack Obama must capture the center, even if it means leaving his party behind. He must do as Bill Clinton did. When faced with opposition, capitulate! When that opposition grows, cave faster!

The president needs to pick a fight with members of his own party in Congress, the Sunday talk show sinecurists have murmured. That will surely help matters. He must embrace a sort of transcendent bipartisanship, suggests Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. He needs to learn, like the New York Times's David Brooks believes our ancestors did, to "tolerate the excesses of traders" because that's the only way to have "vigorous financial markets." Thomas Friedman, a man as consistent as he is banal, opines that the way to turn things around is by . . . embracing entrepreneurship.

Presidential Assassinations of US Citizens

by Glenn Greenwald

The Washington Post's Dana Priest today reports [1] that "U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people." That's no surprise, of course, as Yemen is now another predominantly Muslim country (along with Somalia and Pakistan) in which our military is secretly involved to some unknown degree in combat operations without any declaration of war, without any public debate, and arguably (though not clearly [2]) without any Congressional authorization. The exact role played by the U.S. in the late-December missile attacks in Yemen, which killed numerous civilians, is still unknown.

Coal Ash Industry Allowed To Edit EPA Reports

— Reports to Congress, Brochures, “Fact Sheets” Tailored to Allay Industry Concerns

Washington, DC — For years U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publications and reports about uses and dangers of coal combustion waste have been edited by coal ash industry representatives, according to EPA documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Not surprisingly, the coal ash industry watered down official reports, brochures and fact-sheets to remove references to potential dangers and play up “environmental benefits” of a wide range of applications for coal combustion wastes – the same materials that EPA is currently deciding whether to classify as hazardous wastes following the disastrous December 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee.

Davos 2010: Soros calls for break-up of big banks

By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, in Davos

Legendary investor George Soros has called for a radical break-up of banks that are "too big to fail".

He also backed US President Barack Obama's proposed reforms to limit the size of banks at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Speaking at a private lunch, Mr Soros told journalists that Wall Street bankers opposing Mr Obama's plans were "tone-deaf".

ACORN Smear Journalist Arrested for Alleged Attempt to Bug Sen. Mary Landrieu's Office

Four young right-wing activists were arrested by Federal marshals for attempting to bug the Louisiana Senator's office.

January 26, 2010 | James O’Keefe, the young right-wing activist who posed as a pimp to “break” the ACORN “scandal,” has been arrested by the FBI, along with three alleged accomplices, for attempting to bug the New Orleans offices of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA).

According to a federal affidavit, O’Keefe, along with Joseph Basel, Stan Dai and Robert Flanagan, all 24 years of age, entered the federal building on Monday dressed as telephone company repairmen. According to the Times-Picayune, O’Keefe had entered the office and told a staffer that he was waiting for someone else to arrive. The three other men wore “jeans, fluorescent green vests, tool belts, and hard hats.”

Obama and Volcker Must Go After the Big Banks

By Nomi Prins, AlterNet
Posted on January 27, 2010, Printed on January 27, 2010

Thus far, President Obama’s financial reform strategy has reeked of political expediency—talk tough to Wall Street, act gentle, ride out the populist anti-banker tide, hope for the best, change nothing. But Obama may have awakened to the smell of one-term coffee after last week’s Massachusetts Senate race results. It's certainly heartening to see Obama eschewing the advice of Wall Street-placating Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for that of the sager, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Nevertheless, demonstrating the serious financial reform behind the political fluff talk will take more than a stint of administrative realignment.

Big bank stocks tanked after Obama rolled out the new Volcker rule, and mainstream media headlines attributed the declines to investor concerns that the crazy days of unregulated bank trading will be coming to an end. But the President's actual proposals were not enough to seriously rattle anyone on Wall Street. If anything, the banks were fretting over the prospect of losing the tag-team of Geithner and Fed Chief Ben Bernanke, whose joint brainpower has showered $6.4 trillion in subsidies upon the industry.

'People's History' author Howard Zinn dies at 87

Howard Zinn, an author, teacher and political activist whose leftist "A People's History of the United States" became a million-selling alternative to mainstream texts and a favorite of such celebrities as Bruce Springsteen and Ben Affleck, died Wednesday. He was 87.

Zinn died of a heart attack in Santa Monica, Calif., daughter Myla Kabat-Zinn said. The historian was a resident of Auburndale, Mass.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It only gets worse this year for commercial real estate

WASHINGTON — Commercial real estate is expected to remain a drag on the U.S. economy through 2010 and beyond.

"You do see stress in the market. We've seen delinquency rates increasing; we've seen by a whole variety of measures increased stress in the commercial real estate market," said Jamie Woodwell, the vice president of commercial real estate research for the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Study documents reaction rates for three chemicals with high global warming potential

Greenhouse gases

A study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of SciencesPNAS) provides new information about the rates at which three of the most powerful greenhouse gases are destroyed by a chemical reaction that takes place in the upper atmosphere. (

The three compounds are potentially important because they absorb infrared energy in the so-called "atmospheric window" region – at wavelengths where other major greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide allow radiation to pass freely out into space. Though these long-lived compounds now exist in relatively low concentrations, their ability to absorb energy at these wavelengths means their contributions to global warming could increase if their levels continue to rise.

Managing ecosystems in a changing climate

Global warming may impair the ability of ecosystems to perform vital services—such as providing food, clean water and carbon sequestration—says the nation's largest organization of ecological scientists. In a statement released today, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) outlines strategies that focus on restoring and maintaining natural ecosystem functions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

"Decision-makers cannot overlook the critical services ecosystems provide," says ESA President Mary Power. "If we are going to reduce the possibility of irreversible damage to the environment under climate change, we need to take swift but measured action to protect and manage our ecosystems."

ESA recommends four approaches to limiting adverse effects of climate change through ecosystem management:

Don't Be Stupid with the Economy

by Dean Baker

The US Senate's decision on approving Ben Bernanke [1] for a second term as chair of the Federal Reserve Board is coming down to the wire and the Wall Street crew is once again pulling out all the stops. To get the 60 votes they need for Senate approval they are reaching into the treasure chest of tall tales they used to push through the troubled asset relief programme (Tarp). They are once again telling the American people that the world will end if we don't do exactly what they want.

The main story they are pushing is that if Bernanke is not approved then the markets will panic [2] and send the economy tumbling. Both parts of this story deserve some serious scepticism. First, there undoubtedly will be some uncertainty in the financial markets if Bernanke is not reappointed. Markets like continuity. A new Fed chair means a break in continuity. Therefore, we can expect to see some decline in the stock market, probably about the same as we get when there is a worse-than-expected jobs report.

AIG bail-out investigations launched

The US bail-out watchdog has announced it is launching two investigations into the government's rescue of insurer AIG.

Neil Barofsky, special investigator general for the US's Troubled Asset Relief Program (Tarp), questioned the government's role in the bail-out.

He is appearing before a House Committee looking into the AIG bail-out in 2008 on Wednesday.

Why Progressives Shouldn't Fall For the Deficit Reduction Trap

By James K. Galbraith, AlterNet
Posted on January 26, 2010, Printed on January 26, 2010

Shockingly, President Obama has announced his support for a commission whose purpose is to ramrod Social Security and Medicare cuts through Congress. Thinly disguised as a program for "deficit reduction," the proposed commission will meet its first test today, when the Senate may vote to authorize it as part of a bill to raise the national debt ceiling. A large progressive coalition is already on record against it. But the progressives' case is flawed; it's not tough enough. Here's why.

Glenn Greenwald: The sanctity of military spending

Administration officials announced last night that the President, in tomorrow's State of the Union address, will propose a multi-year freeze on certain domestic discretionary spending programs. This is an "initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit," officials told The New York Times.

But the freeze is more notable for what it excludes than what it includes. For now, it does not include the largest domestic spending programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And all "security-releated programs" are also exempted from the freeze, which means it does not apply to military spending, the intelligence budget, the Surveillance State, or foreign military aid. As always, the notion of decreasing the deficit and national debt through reductions in military spending is one of the most absolute Washington taboos. What possible rationale is there for that?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction

By Chris Hedges

Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d’état in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.

The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

Details of Iraq whistleblower’s alleged suicide to be sealed 70 years

By Stephen C. Webster
Sunday, January 24th, 2010 -- 6:19 pm

By 2080, anyone with a direct interest in learning how Dr. David Kelly died, will themselves be dead.

That's how an Oxford coroner reacted to a recent ruling ordering the details of the former United Nations weapons inspector's death locked away for 70 years, according to a Mail Online report.

Paul Krugman: The Bernanke Conundrum

A Republican won in Massachusetts — and suddenly it’s not clear whether the Senate will confirm Ben Bernanke for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman. That’s not as strange as it sounds: Washington has suddenly noticed public rage over economic policies that bailed out big banks but failed to create jobs. And Mr. Bernanke has become a symbol of those policies.

Where do I stand? I deeply admire Mr. Bernanke, both as an economist and for his response to the financial crisis. (Full disclosure: before going to the Fed he headed Princeton’s economics department, and hired me for my current position there.) Yet his critics have a strong case. In the end, I favor his reappointment, but only because rejecting him could make the Fed’s policies worse, not better.

How did we get to the point where that’s the most I can say?

Can Obama Fight?

The president is talking like a populist. But he also needs to punch like one.

Mon Jan. 25, 2010 2:00 AM PST

Two days after Republican Scott Brown's upset win in Massachusetts, the Obama administration proposed two new measures that would limit the ability of big financial institutions to wheel and deal. In announcing these initiatives—one of which would prevent investment banks from playing the market with their own cash—President Barack Obama got rather feisty:

What we've seen so far, in recent weeks, is an army of industry lobbyists from Wall Street descending on Capitol Hill to try and block basic and common-sense rules of the road that would protect our economy and the American people. So if these folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have. And my resolve is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform.

Economic growth 'cannot continue'

Continuing global economic growth "is not possible" if nations are to tackle climate change, a report by an environmental think-tank has warned.

The New Economics Foundation (Nef) said "unprecedented and probably impossible" carbon reductions would be needed to hold temperature rises below 2C (3.6F).

Scientists say exceeding this limit could lead to dangerous global warming.

"We urgently need to change our economy to live within its environmental budget," said Nef's policy director.

Andrew Simms added: "There is no global, environmental central bank to bail us out if we become ecologically bankrupt."

None of the existing models or policies could "square the circle" of economic growth with climate safety, Nef added.

Stiglitz pinpoints 'moral' core of crisis

By Henry CK Liu

Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Roosevelt Institute senior fellow and its chief economist, said on CNBC on January 19 that the US is infested with "ersatz capitalism", a flawed, unfair system that socializes economic losses and privatizes the gains. He decries the "moral depravity" that has led to the current financial crisis.

Stiglitz served in the Bill Clinton administration as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers (1995-97) before moving to the World Bank as its chief economist, where he developed a Pauline epiphany against the very neo-liberalism he helped promote in the form of "the Third Way", to criticize belatedly but rightly and vocally policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Such outbursts put him in conflict with the Treasury Department under Larry Summers, who reportedly forced Stiglitz to resign (2000), presumably for not being a team player. Notwithstanding his government career setback, Stiglitz was selected as a recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

NASA's Prophet Will Give You Nightmares

Ignore James Hansen's climate predictions at your peril.

I started reading James Hansen's new book, Storms of My Grandchildren, at the edge of a vanishing Arctic. I sat on a bare brown Greenland hillside listening to the ferocious crack and crash of the dying glaciers in the distance. As I watched the corpse of the ice sheet float by, broken into a thousand icebergs, it seemed the right place to begin the leading NASA scientist's explanation for what I was seeing. Since the year I was born, 1979, 40 percent of the Arctic sea ice has vanished. If we don't change our behavior fast, Hansen says I will live to see the day when it is all gone, and the North Pole is a point in the open ocean, reachable by boat. He stresses these are only the starting symptoms of a planetary fever that will remake the map of the world—and the capacity of human beings to survive on it. I finished reading the book at the Copenhagen climate summit, where the world's leaders gathered to offer a giant shrug.

Paul Krugman For The Fed

The case for Ben Bernanke’s reappointment was weak to start with, weakened with his hearings, and is now held together by string and some phone calls from the White House. Bernanke is an airline pilot who pulled off a miraculous landing, but didn’t do his preflight checks and doesn’t show any sign of being more careful in the future – thank him if you want, but why would you fly with him again (or the airline that keeps him on)?

The support for Bernanke in the Senate hangs by a thread – with Harry Reid providing a message of support, albeit lukewarm, after the markets close. The White House is telling people that if Bernanke is not reconfirmed there will be chaos in the markets and the economic recovery will be derailed. This is incorrect.

Frank Rich: After the Massachusetts Massacre

It was not a referendum on Barack Obama, who in every poll remains one of the most popular politicians in America. It was not a rejection of universal health care, which Massachusetts mandated (with Scott Brown’s State Senate vote) in 2006. It was not a harbinger of a resurgent G.O.P., whose numbers remain in the toilet. Brown had the good sense not to identify himself as a Republican in either his campaign advertising or his victory speech.

And yet Tuesday’s special election was a dire omen for this White House. If the administration sticks to this trajectory, all bets are off for the political future of a president who rode into office blessed with more high hopes, good will and serious promise than any in modern memory. It’s time for him to stop deluding himself. Yes, last week’s political obituaries were ludicrously premature. Obama’s 50-ish percent first-anniversary approval rating matches not just Carter’s but Reagan’s. (Bushes 41 and 43 both skyrocketed in Year One.) Still, minor adjustments can’t right what’s wrong.

To Haiti with hate, from the US right

Andrew Stephen
Published 21 January 2010

The attacks on Haiti by the religious far right can be traced back to the US occupation of the country

Let's stop all this nonsense about the suffering people of Haiti. Listen to what Rush Limbaugh, king of the far-right radio airwaves here, says we should all do: nothing. "We've already donated to Haiti," Limbaugh lectured a caller on his daily show, which is broadcast by 645 radio stations throughout the US and earns him $35m a year. "It's called the US income tax."

From the pulpit of the religious far right, 79-year-old Pat Robertson, a semi-serious presidential contender in 1988, chimed in with his own unique wisdom, telling us that the Haitians had got what they deserved because they had made "a pact to the devil".

Seven things about the economy that everyone should be more worried about than they are

(Part of our series on "Reporting the Economic Collapse")

By Dan Froomkin

An extraordinary series of articles recently appeared on the Nieman Watchdog Web site, anchored by John Hanrahan and mostly based on interviews with some of the nation's most perceptive, prescient and prophetic economists. The series laid out a broad landscape of economic issues that have been largely overlooked during the reporting of the nation’s economic collapse -- to our great peril.

Hanrahan’s articles explore key elements of the story that reporters should have been -- and should still be -- writing about. Among them: The endemic fraud at the heart of the collapse, the resultant need for a comprehensive dissection of some key financial institutions, how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have weakened the economy, the dramatic effects of the crash on domestic poverty and world poverty, and underlying it all, the critically important role of government spending in a recovery, be it through a second stimulus or expanded entitlements or jobs programs, all of which requires that deficits be seen, for the short run at least, as the solution, not the problem.

Hatch Admits Hypocrisy: ‘A Lot Of Things Weren’t Paid For’ When Republicans Ran Congress During Bush Years

In 2003, when the Bush administration was already projecting a budget deficit of $475 billion in fiscal year 2004, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit that raised the deficit by $395 billion between 2004 and 2013. Despite enacting a massive, unpaid for entitlement expansion while in power, Republicans have attacked the cost of health care reform sought by President Obama and Democrats in Congress — even though the bill with the best chance of passage would reduce the deficit by $132 billion over 10 years and by $1.3 trillion over 20 years.

They Still Don’t Get It

Published: January 22, 2010

How loud do the alarms have to get? There is an economic emergency in the country with millions upon millions of Americans riddled with fear and anxiety as they struggle with long-term joblessness, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and dwindling opportunities for themselves and their children.

The door is being slammed on the American dream and the politicians, including the president and his Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, seem not just helpless to deal with the crisis, but completely out of touch with the hardships that have fallen on so many.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Futurist Weighs In, Part II: The Things We Leave Behind

My little series on the turn of the decade (which started last week [1]) was originally conceived as a two-parter: a look back to the past, and a look ahead to the future.

That changed a bit this week, when the present rose up and made itself known in a very big way.

American history has a rhythm to it: years of calm punctuated by seasons of astonishing upheaval. Sometimes, the long quiet spells -- like the long intervals between earthquakes in places like Haiti -- can go on for so long that we forget that life could ever be different, or that History, writ large, can possibly happen to us at all. All the really heinous, traumatic stuff -- war, famine, economic panic -- happened in somebody else's past. The sweet prosperity we have now is what forever looks like.

Obama Puts Social Security on the Chopping Block

| Wed Jan. 20, 2010 8:36 AM PST

Hope for lasting liberal change was washed away on Tuesday—not just with the loss of the Democrats' super-majority in the Senate, but with a closed-door deal that would lead to cuts in bedrock liberal programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. While Massachusetts voters were casting their ballots to install Republican Scott Brown in Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, President Obama was hammering out an agreement with Democratic leaders to support a commission on the deficit with the power to propose reductions to entitlement programs. This proposal represents a capitulation to conservatives in both parties, and leaves liberals surrendering not only on health care, but on the core achievements of the New Deal and the Great Society.

SCOTUS eviscerates campaign finance regulations: What to do about it

No doubt by now you’ve heard that the Supreme Court’s “conservatives” took an axe to regulations that for a century have limited corporate spending on political campaigns. By the slimmest of majorities, SCOTUS ruled today that corporations and unions may spend without limit on political issues and in support of candidates because they have free speech rights under the 1st Amendment just as any actual human being.

The ruling threatens to open floodgates to spending on a massive scale by corporations seeking to advance their own interests against the interests of, well, actual human beings. It should also do nicely to enhance the public’s cynicism about corporate influence over legislators (and elective judges). By itself the mere potential for uncontrolled corporate spending will tend to distort political calculations and legislative/judicial decisions – and the public’s perception of those things. The impact could be most severe in congressional elections where corporate spending or its potential will be most likely to overwhelm actual humans’ spending.

Paul Krugman: Do the Right Thing

A message to House Democrats: This is your moment of truth. You can do the right thing and pass the Senate health care bill. Or you can look for an easy way out, make excuses and fail the test of history.

Tuesday’s Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election means that Democrats can’t send a modified health care bill back to the Senate. That’s a shame because the bill that would have emerged from House-Senate negotiations would have been better than the bill the Senate has already passed. But the Senate bill is much, much better than nothing. And all that has to happen to make it law is for the House to pass the same bill, and send it to President Obama’s desk.

Right now, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says that she doesn’t have the votes to pass the Senate bill. But there is no good alternative.

Obama Adopts Volcker's Solution: If Banks Want Govt. Guarantees, They Have to Close Their Casino Operations

By Zach Carter, AlterNet
Posted on January 21, 2010, Printed on January 22, 2010

The news that President Barack Obama is finally listening to Paul Volcker is welcome, but the specifics of Obama's big bank crackdown are not as positive as initial reports had indicated.

For more than a year now, Volcker has been urging policymakers to deliver strong regulatory medicine to revive the weak U.S. financial system. But Obama and other top advisers like Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner have resisted the former Federal Reserve Chairman's overtures, instead opting for a set of small-bore, technocratic tweaks to a system that is fundamentally broken. (There's one major exception to this pattern—Obama's proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency is a dramatic and critical step for salvaging the American economy, and the President has advocated for it over Geithner's objections.) Volcker has repeatedly suggested that banks that are too-big-to-fail are simply too-big-to-exist, and has consistently and correctly urged that banks be banned from participating in risky, high-flying securities trading. Today, Obama acknowledged these were good ideas.

Ex-AG Took Down License Plates of Visitors to Dr. Tiller's Clinic, Ethics Probe Reveals

Posted by Staff, AlterNet on January 21, 2010 at 3:27 PM.

An ethics complaint lodged against former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline reveals that the ex AG engaged in unethical and deeply disturbing behavior in his crusade against Dr. Tiller, the late-term abortion provider murdered last May. Among the most disturbing charges is the accusation that Kline sent staff to record the license plate numbers of visitors to Dr. Tiller's clinic and subpoenaed the guest list from a hotel used by patients.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Bee decline linked to falling biodiversity

By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

The decline of honeybees seen in many countries may be caused by reduced plant diversity, research suggests.

Bees fed pollen from a range of plants showed signs of having a healthier immune system than those eating pollen from a single type, scientists found.

Writing in the journal Biology Letters, the French team says that bees need a fully functional immune system in order to sterilise food for the colony.

Smart mud could be the new plastic

Could a mixture of water and clay replace plastics? The desire to wean the world off oil has sparked all manner of research into novel transportation fuels, but manufacturing plastics uses large amounts of oil too. Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Japan, think their material could be up to the task.

Takuzo Aida and his team mixed a few grams of clay with 100 grams of water in the presence of tiny quantities of a thickening agent called sodium polyacrylate and an organic "molecular glue". The thickening agent teases apart the clay into thin sheets, increasing its surface area and allowing the glue to get a better hold on it.

America’s Low-Wage Future

British historian E.H. Carr once said something to the effect that while no serious scholar makes up the facts, they all choose which facts “to put on stage.” The problem of cultural bias is that there are way too many facts to give them all their proper due, and in choosing what we think is most significant among them, we are guided by our own focus and general sense of significance – that is, by our values, our hopes and fears, and our everyday sense of how the world works.

Every two years the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) makes detailed projections of how many jobs there will be in which occupations ten years from now.

Progressives Issue "Warning" On Debt Commission

Bill Scher
January 20, 2010 - 12:21pm ET

Earlier today, progressive leaders representing more than 50 organizations declared their opposition to the Conrad-Gregg debt commission proposal, which is expected to be introduced on the Senate floor soon as part of the bill to allow our federal government to meet its obligations by raising the debt ceiling.

The commission as originally envisioned -- with the power to prevent any amendments to its recommendations on the House and Senate floors -- is expected to be defeated by the full Senate. But the minority of pro-austerity, anti-Social Security/Medicare senators has threatened to force the entire US government into default if a compromise isn't reached that satisfies them.

Supreme Court rolls back campaign spending limits

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress, easing decades-old limits on their participation in federal campaigns.

By a 5-4 vote, the court on Thursday overturned a 20-year-old ruling that said corporations can be prohibited from using money from their general treasuries to pay for their own campaign ads. The decision, which almost certainly will also allow labor unions to participate more freely in campaigns, threatens similar limits imposed by 24 states.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thomas Frank: One Cross of Gold, Coming Up

How the government could get even with right-wing cranks.

These are polarized times, but one thing everyone agrees on is that it sure is great when government makes a profit.

Supporters of President Obama like to point to recent TARP-loan payoffs, plus interest, as an example of federal success. His opponents, by and large, have long held that government should be run like a business; their former leader, George W. Bush, once announced that "government should be market-based."

It is a terrible idea. Were the government actually to begin understanding itself as a market-based, profit-maximizing enterprise, determined to bring down the deficit by whatever means present themselves, can there be any doubt what it would do?

It would sell gold. Oh, it would sell lots of gold. It would put Fort Knox on eBay. Mr. Obama could film the TV commercials.

It's the Fault of the All-Powerful 'Left'

by Glenn Greenwald

I have a contribution this morning to the New York Times examining the Scott Brown victory, and I'll post the link to it once it's up. But for the moment, I want to address two equally moronic themes emerging over the last couple of days which seek to blame the omnipotent, dominant, super-human "Left" for the Democrats' woes -- one coming from right-wing Democrats and the other from hard-core Obama loyalists (those two categories are not mutually exclusive but, rather, often overlap).

Last night, Evan Bayh blamed the Democrats' problems on "the furthest left elements," which he claims dominates the Democratic Party -- seriously. And in one of the dumbest and most dishonest Op-Eds ever written, Lanny Davis echoes that claim in The Wall St. Journal: "Blame the Left for Massachusetts" (Davis attributes the unpopularity of health care reform to the "liberal" public option and mandate; he apparently doesn't know that the health care bill has no public option [someone should tell him], that the public option was one of the most popular provisions in the various proposals, and the "mandate" is there to please the insurance industry, not "the Left," which, in the absence of a public option, hates the mandate; Davis' claim that "candidate Obama's health-care proposal did not include a public option" is nothing short of an outright lie).

Translating David Brooks

A friend of mine sent a link to Sunday’s David Brooks column on Haiti, a genuinely beautiful piece of occasional literature. Not many writers would have the courage to use a tragic event like a 50,000-fatality earthquake to volubly address the problem of nonwhite laziness and why it sometimes makes natural disasters seem timely, but then again, David Brooks isn’t just any writer.
Rather than go through the Brooks piece line by line, I figured I’d just excerpt a few bits here and there and provide the Cliff’s Notes translation at the end. It’s really sort of a masterpiece of cultural signaling — if you live anywhere between 59th st and about 105th, you can hear the between-the-lines messages with dog-whistle clarity. Some examples:

This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It’s a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: “You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten.”

Crisis probe lacks Pecora edge

By Julian Delasantellis

During the darkest days of the Great Depression of the 1930s, businessmen knew that they had to go the extra mile to separate customers from their money. For the movie-theater owner, this frequently involved presenting substantially more entertainment and information than just the feature film attraction.

One of these might be what came to be known as the "cliffhanger", basically, a 10-20 minute segment of an adventure/science fiction film, one that began with a resolution of the protagonist's crisis from the previous week, and ended with him getting into another one (as in, hanging off a cliff) that would hold the audience's attention and interest until the following week.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't Try It, Banks!

Big banks are considering challenging Obama's proposed tax as unconstitutional. This is a bad idea.

The big banks are considering challenging President Obama's proposed tax on very large banks and financial institutions in court as unconstitutional. Let's see if I have this right. The Federal Reserve deciding unilaterally, without public debate, to assume hundreds of billions of dollars of financial companies' liabilities, spent hundreds of billions to buy mortgage-backed securities and potentially expose taxpayers to massive losses: That's totally constitutional. Congress passing a law suggesting that a small portion of the bailed-out financial industry, which is still benefitting from massive government subsidies, pay a fee for running huge balance sheets: That's unconstitutional.

Extend bank tax to do the business

A speculation tax would not just claw back billions lost in bailouts – it would make the financial sector more efficient and productive

Dean Baker, Monday 18 January 2010 19.00

President Obama proposed a tax on the country's largest banks to help recover the money lost under the Troubled Assets Relief Programme (Tarp). This tax is a positive step. However, it will not come close to recovering the losses incurred in the bailouts and it will do almost nothing to change the way that the banks do business. For this we will need a larger financial speculation tax.

First, it is necessary to be clear on the extent of the losses incurred in the bailouts of the financial system. The losses in the Tarp are currently pegged at close to $120bn, mostly due to the bailout of AIG, the giant US insurance company. This money was virtually a direct handout to several large banks, as the government's money allowed AIG to make payments to Goldman Sachs and other large banks that would not have been possible if it had fallen into bankruptcy.

Bill Moyers & Thomas Frank: How America's Demented Politics Let the GOP Off the Hook for Their Giant Mess

By Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank, Bill Moyers Journal
Posted on January 19, 2010, Printed on January 19, 2010

Editor's note: In the following interview Bill Moyers and Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter With Kansas" and "The Wrecking Crew," talk about why conservatives can get away with blaming Obama for the past decade of conservative failures.

Bill Moyers: There were hands in the air in Washington this week, but it wasn't a stickup. The new Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, appointed by Congress to find out how America got rolled, began hearings this week. These four are not the victims of one of the greatest bank heists in history - they're the perpetrators, bankers so sleek and crafty they got off with the loot in broad daylight, and then sweet talked the government into taxing us to pay it back.

Watching that scene on the opening day of the hearings, it was hard enough to believe that almost a year has passed since Barack Obama raised his hand, too -- taking the oath of office to become our 44th President. Even harder to remember what America looked like before Obama, because we've also been robbed of memory, assaulted by what the Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz described as a "fantastic proliferation of mass media." We live in a time "characterized by a refusal to remember." Inconvenient facts simply disappear down the memory hole, as in George Orwell's novel, "1984."

FBI got 2,000 phone records with fake terrorism emergencies: report

By Tom A. Peter / January 19, 2010

The Federal Bureau of Investigation used false terrorism emergencies to illegally collect more than 2,000 phone records between 2002 and 2006. A series of e-mails and memos obtained by The Washington Post details how FBI officials violated their own procedures and strained their communication analysis unit with non-urgent requests. In many instances, approval was granted after records had been collected to justify the FBI’s actions.

Later this month, the Justice Department is expected to issue a report that will find the FBI violated regulations many times with its terrorism-related phone record requests. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III did not know about the problems until late 2006 or early 2007 when they were brought to light by an inspector general investigation, reports the Associated Press.

Monday, January 18, 2010

If You're Disillusioned with Obama, You Don't Understand How He Won

The distance between the aspirations he raised and his record a year on is the distinction between the electoral and the political

by Gary Younge

You've got to feel sorry for the Democratic ­Senate leader, Harry Reid. In 1995, when it seemed Colin Powell might run for president, Powell explained his ­appeal to white voters thus: "I speak reasonably well, like a white person", and, visually, "I ain't that black".

More than a decade later, Reid said almost the same thing about Barack Obama, arguing that the presidential candidate owed his success in part to his "light-skinned" appearance and the fact that he spoke "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one".

The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle

1. “Asymmetrical Warfare”

When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.

Mass. Senate race's lesson for Obama

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
Monday, January 18, 2010; A17

In June 2008, a few months before the financial implosions began, I asked two smart financiers who happened to be Republican about the future of the seemingly shaky American economy.

Defying the moment's conventional predictions that we would somehow muddle through, one offered a dire and uncannily accurate forecast. He explained why banks would blow up, investments would crash and the federal government would have to spend "at least $300 billion" to bail out financial institutions.

The other financial expert listened closely, took a sip from his drink, and smiled. "This," he said, "would seem like an excellent time for the Democrats to take power."

Frank Rich: The Great Tea Party Rip-Off

Even given the low bar set by America’s bogus conversations about race, the short-lived Harry Reid fracas was a most peculiar nonevent. For all the hyperventilation in cable news land, this supposed racial brawl didn’t seem to generate any controversy whatsoever in what is known as the real world.

Eugene Robinson, the liberal black columnist at The Washington Post, wrote that he was “neither shocked nor outraged” at Reid’s less-than-articulate observation that Barack Obama benefited politically from being “light-skinned” and for lacking a “Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one.” Besides, Robinson said, Reid’s point was “surely true.” The black conservative Ward Connerly agreed, writing in The Wall Street Journal that he was “having a difficult time determining what it was that Mr. Reid said that was so offensive.”

Paul Krugman: What Didn't Happen

Lately many people have been second-guessing the Obama administration’s political strategy. The conventional wisdom seems to be that President Obama tried to do too much — in particular, that he should have put health care on one side and focused on the economy.

I disagree. The Obama administration’s troubles are the result not of excessive ambition, but of policy and political misjudgments. The stimulus was too small; policy toward the banks wasn’t tough enough; and Mr. Obama didn’t do what Ronald Reagan, who also faced a poor economy early in his administration, did — namely, shelter himself from criticism with a narrative that placed the blame on previous administrations.

About the stimulus: it has surely helped. Without it, unemployment would be much higher than it is. But the administration’s program clearly wasn’t big enough to produce job gains in 2009.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Turns Up the Heat

By Greg Kaufmann
January 15, 2010

If you're not scared as hell you should be.

Two days of Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission hearings have me rattled about how little has changed about our financial system and how much is still at risk. They also have me wondering this: where the hell is the media?

For the first day of panels, reporters were squeezed together in the back rows after filling more reserved seating than I've seen at any prior hearing during this session of Congress.

Get ready for seven-foot sea level rise as climate change melts ice sheets

The IPCC's 2007 report missed out the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets which would be the key drivers in dramatic sea level rises. From Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network

Rob Young and Orrin Pilkey for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network, Friday 15 January 2010 11.57 GMT

The reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are balanced and comprehensive documents summarizing the impact of global warming on the planet. But they are not without imperfections, and one of the most notable was the analysis of future sea level rise contained in the latest report, issued in 2007.

Given the complexities of forecasting how much the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will contribute to increases in global sea level, the IPCC chose not to include these giant ice masses in their calculations, thus ignoring what is likely to be the most important source of sea level rise in the 21st century. Arguing that too little was understood about ice sheet collapse to construct a mathematical model upon which even a rough estimate could be based, the IPCC came up with sea level predictions using thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of mountain glaciers outside the poles. Its results were predictably conservative — a maximum of a two-foot rise this century — and were even a foot lower than an earlier IPCC report that factored in some melting of Greenland's ice sheet.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Naomi Klein Issues Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert: Stop Them Before They Shock Again

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Naomi Klein. We’re going to try that tape again, her commenting on what is going on in Haiti right now and who is profiting already.

NAOMI KLEIN: But as I write about in The Shock Doctrine, crises are often used now as the pretext for pushing through policies that you cannot push through under times of stability. Countries in periods of extreme crisis are desperate for any kind of aid, any kind of money, and are not in a position to negotiate fairly the terms of that exchange.

And I just want to pause for a second and read you something, which is pretty extraordinary. I just put this up on my website. The headline is “Haiti: Stop Them Before They Shock Again.” This went up a few hours ago, three hours ago, I believe, on the Heritage Foundation website.

Disadvantaged neighborhoods set children's reading skills on negative course: UBC study

A landmark study from the University of British Columbia finds that the neighbourhoods in which children reside at kindergarten predict their reading comprehension skills seven years later.

The study, published this week in the journal Health & Place, finds children who live in neighbourhoods with higher rates of poverty show reduced scores on standardized tests seven years later – regardless of the child's place of residence in Grade 7. The study is the first of its kind to compare the relative effects of neighbourhood poverty at early childhood and early adolescence.

Paul Krugman: Bankers Without a Clue

The official Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission — the group that aims to hold a modern version of the Pecora hearings of the 1930s, whose investigations set the stage for New Deal bank regulation — began taking testimony on Wednesday. In its first panel, the commission grilled four major financial-industry honchos. What did we learn?

Well, if you were hoping for a Perry Mason moment — a scene in which the witness blurts out: “Yes! I admit it! I did it! And I’m glad!” — the hearing was disappointing. What you got, instead, was witnesses blurting out: “Yes! I admit it! I’m clueless!”

O.K., not in so many words. But the bankers’ testimony showed a stunning failure, even now, to grasp the nature and extent of the current crisis. And that’s important: It tells us that as Congress and the administration try to reform the financial system, they should ignore advice coming from the supposed wise men of Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer.

The New Storm Brewing On the Climate Front

With the cap and trade bill stalled, its foes move to block the Environmental Protection Agency from tackling greenhouse gases.

Fri Jan. 15, 2010 2:59 AM PST

The cap-and-trade bill may have stalled in Congress, but its opponents aren't taking it easy. They’ve launched a new assault on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—hoping to neutralize the only legal weapon the Obama administration has to curb carbon emissions if the climate legislation fails.

Last month the EPA determined that greenhouse gases are a threat to human health, meaning that the agency is now required by the Clean Air Act to regulate such pollutants. And with no-one sure when the Senate will take up the cap-and-trade bill, EPA regulation has become a do-or-die issue for both camps in the climate fight. Advocates of climate action see it as the lone tool—albeit an imperfect one—that the Obama administration can use to implement significant emissions reductions in the absence of legislation. Foes, meanwhile, decry it as a back-door maneuver that must be stopped at all costs.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian Earthquake: Made in the USA

Why the Blood Is on Our Hands

by Ted Rall

As grim accounts of the earthquake in Haiti came in, the accounts in U.S.-controlled state media all carried the same descriptive sentence: "Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere..."

Gee, I wonder how that happened?

You'd think Haiti would be loaded. After all, it made a lot of people rich.

How did Haiti get so poor? Despite a century of American colonialism, occupation, and propping up corrupt dictators? Even though the CIA staged coups d'état against every democratically elected president they ever had?

‘Grassroots’ Opposition To Clean Energy Reform Bankrolled By Foreign Oil, Petro-Governments

Clean energy legislation passed by the House, now pending in the Senate, faces fierce opposition from the proprietors of fossil fuel companies, and much has been reported on how domestic oil and coal companies have flooded the debate with money, lobbying, and misinformation. These opponents of clean energy reform claim to be “standing up” for American jobs and security.

From the ancient Amazonian Indians: A modern weapon against global warming

Scientists are reporting that "biochar" — a material that the Amazonian Indians used to enhance soil fertility centuries ago — has potential in the modern world to help slow global climate change. Mass production of biochar could capture and sock away carbon that otherwise would wind up in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. Their report appears in ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a bi-weekly journal.

Losing the Internet as We Know It

How much have you already used the Internet today?

We don't think twice about how much we rely on the Internet. Imagine not being able to map directions on Google or check the weather online. A business that doesn't have a Web site? Forgettable. Or rather, unsearchable. Remember when we didn't have e-mail? Would you want to go back to those Dark Ages? Me neither.

The Internet is in the very fabric of how we communicate, learn, shop, conduct business, organize, innovate and engage. If we lost it, we'd be lost.

But did you know that we're at risk of losing the Internet as we know it? Millions of Americans don't know that a battle over the future of the Internet is being played out right now in Washington. How it ends will have deep repercussions for decades to come.

Scientists confirm link between BPA and heart disease in humans

The FDA’s new report on the safety of endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A is months overdue and there is still no sign of when or if the agency will release the report. Perhaps they are waiting for that piece of “smoking gun” evidence that BPA represents a clear and present danger to human health? Well, thanks to researchers from Peninsula College of Medicine in Britain, we just may have it.

In 2008, the group looked at data from the 2003-2004 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which included urinary BPA levels for the first time.

Bring Back Glass-Steagall

by Thomas Frank

Last month, Sens. Maria Cantwell and John McCain proposed a measure that would revive parts of the old Glass-Steagall Act, the 1933 law that separated investment from commercial banking. After having been diluted many times over the years, Glass-Steagall was largely repealed in 1999, permitting a wave of consolidation in the financial industry.

The latest crisis has provoked a new debate over the old regulatory regime. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz has argued that the repeal of Glass-Steagall had an "especial role" in making the financial calamity of 2008 possible. Former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, currently the head of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, has called for a new separation between commercial banking and riskier financial activities.

Any discussion about breaking up the financial industry, however, runs into a powerful stereotype: the overwhelming consensus belief in the risible backwardness of Glass-Steagall.

Moral Bankruptcy: Why Are We Letting Wall Street Off So Easy?

by Joseph E. Stiglitz

It is said that a near-death experience forces one to reevaluate priorities and values. The global economy has just escaped a near-death experience. The crisis exposed the flaws in the prevailing economic model, but it also exposed flaws in our society. Much has been written about the foolishness of the risks [1] that the financial sector undertook, the devastation that its institutions have brought to the economy, and the fiscal deficits [2]that have resulted. Too little has been written about the underlying moral deficit that has been exposed-a deficit that is larger, and harder to correct.

One of the lessons of this crisis is that there is a need for collective action, that there is a role for government. But there are others. We allowed markets to blindly shape our economy, but in doing so, they also shaped our society. We should take this opportunity to ask: Are we sure that the way that they have been molding us is what we want?

Lobbyists aided Alaska's Murkowski in writing EPA limits bill

WASHINGTON — Two lobbyists had a hand in writing language proposed by Sen. Lisa Murkowski that could curtail the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate major emitters of greenhouse gases.

Their involvement, first reported Monday by The Washington Post, came at the request of a staffer on the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, where the Alaska senator is the top Republican. Both of the lobbyists, Jeff Holmstead and Roger Martella Jr., represent a number of high-profile energy clients. Both had top positions in the EPA during the Bush administration.

The Case For A Supertax On Big Bank Bonuses

The big banks are pre-testing their main messages for bonus season, which starts in earnest next week. Their payouts relative to profits will be “record lows”, their people won’t make as much as in 2007 (except for Goldman), and they will pay a higher proportion of the bonus in stock than usual. Behind the scenes, leading executives are still arguing out the details of the optics.

As they justify their pay packages, the bankers open up a broader relevant question: How much bonus do they deserve in this situation? After all, bonus time is when you decide who made what kind of relative contribution to your bottom line – and you are able to recognize unusually strong achievement.

Thank You, Wall Street. May We Have Another?

Americans are angry at the financial crisis—just not at the fat cats who caused it.

Regime change in Tehran? Don't bet on it

By Dilip Hiro

The dramatic images of protestors in Iran fearlessly facing - and sometimes countering - the brutal attacks of the regime's security forces rightly gain the admiration and sympathy of viewers in the West. They also leave many Westerners assuming that this is a preamble to regime change in Tehran, a repeat of history but with a twist. After all, Iran has the distinction of being the only Middle Eastern state that underwent a revolutionary change - 31 years ago - which originated as a mild street protest.

Viewed objectively, though, this assumption is over-optimistic. It overlooks cardinal differences between the present moment and the 1978-1979 events that led to the overthrow of the shah of Iran and the founding of an Islamic Republic under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. History shows that a revolutionary movement triumphs only when two vital factors merge: it is supported by a coalition of different social classes and it succeeds in crippling the country's governing machinery and fracturing the state's repressive apparatus.

Bottom Dollar

Conservatives claim Obama's policies are weakening the dollar. Let's examine the evidence.

It's an article of faith among many analysts that the U.S. dollar is in trouble. The response to the financial crisis, they say, has debased the currency. The culprits are the Federal Reserve, which slashed interest rates to zero, printed money, and vastly expanded its balance sheet, and the Obama administration, which has run up huge deficits by embracing Keynesian efforts to stimulate the economy.

As early as July 2008—months before the presidential election—McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin blamed the weak dollar on Obama. Here's a typical piece from Conservative Daily News arguing that the administration is weakening the dollar to boost exports. Niall Ferguson, author of this declinist, anti-Keynesian Newsweek cover story, last October said the dollar could fall another 20 percent against the euro over the next few years. John Paulson, who made billions betting against subprime mortgages, as chronicled by Gregory Zuckerman in the The Greatest Trade Ever, is bearish on the dollar too.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Paul Krugman: Learning From Europe

As health care reform nears the finish line, there is much wailing and rending of garments among conservatives. And I’m not just talking about the tea partiers. Even calmer conservatives have been issuing dire warnings that Obamacare will turn America into a European-style social democracy. And everyone knows that Europe has lost all its economic dynamism.

Strange to say, however, what everyone knows isn’t true. Europe has its economic troubles; who doesn’t? But the story you hear all the time — of a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation — bears little resemblance to the surprisingly positive facts. The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.

Actually, Europe’s economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe — official economic statistics or your own lying eyes — the eyes have it.

Mr. Smith Rewrites the Constitution

by Thomas Geoghegan

About the Senate, a college professor of mine used to say, "One day, the Supreme Court will declare it unconstitutional." He was joking, I think.

But the Senate, as it now operates, really has become unconstitutional: as we saw during the recent health care debacle, a 60-vote majority is required to overcome a filibuster and pass any contested bill. The founders, though, were dead set against supermajorities as a general rule, and the ever-present filibuster threat has made the Senate a more extreme check on the popular will than they ever intended.

This change to the Constitution was not the result of, say, a formal amendment, but a procedural rule adopted in 1975: a revision of Senate Rule 22, which was the old cloture rule. Before 1975, it took two-thirds of the Senate to end a filibuster, but it was the "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" filibuster: if senators wanted to stop a vote, they had to bring in the cots and the coffee and read from Grandma's recipe for chicken soup until, unshaven, they keeled over from their own rhetorical exhaust.

The Craziest Tax

Lost Your Job? The IRS Thinks You're Loaded

NEW YORK--My friend was a survivor. Until she wasn't. She'd made it through 14 rounds of layoffs at her accounting firm. Then came number 15: "I was a telecommuter. When my boss told me to come into the office for a meeting, I knew I was done for. I told her to cut the crap, save me the trip, and fire me over the phone."

I told her how to file for unemployment benefits. In New York, you can get up to $405 a week plus $25 in extra "Obama bucks" approved by the feds back during the hope and change days. (Most states pay less.) Then I warned her: "Remember, set some of that aside. Unemployment benefits are taxable." In New York, that means roughly 40 percent.

Unemployment: The 2010 Time Bomb

By John Nichols, The Nation
Posted on January 9, 2010, Printed on January 11, 2010

American employers eliminated 4.2 million jobs in 2009 and sent unemployment soaring into double digits for the first time in more than a quarter century.

Since the fall of last year, the official jobless rate has been over ten percent, while the unofficial rate (taking in the severely underemployed and those who have given up looking) has been over 17 percent.

Katha Pollitt: The Decade for Women: Forward, Backward, Sideways?

How have American women fared in what seems to be everyone's least favorite decade since the Fall of Rome, which at least was fun for the Vandals? (Well, to be fair, today's investment bankers have plenty to chortle over.) Herewith some feminist highs and lows of the era that began with the Supreme Court choosing the president and ended with hope hangovers and tempests in teabags.

Tomgram: Engelhardt and Turse, The CIA Surges

Posted by Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse at 5:30pm,
January 10, 2010.

The Shadow War
Making Sense of the New CIA Battlefield in Afghanistan

By Tom Engelhardt and Nick Turse

It was a Christmas and New Year’s from hell for American intelligence, that $75 billion labyrinth of at least 16 major agencies and a handful of minor ones. As the old year was preparing to be rung out, so were our intelligence agencies, which managed not to connect every obvious clue to a (literally) seat-of-the-pants al-Qaeda operation. It hardly mattered that the underwear bomber’s case -- except for the placement of the bomb material -- almost exactly, even outrageously, replicated the infamous, and equally inept, “shoe bomber” plot of eight years ago.

That would have been bad enough, but the New Year brought worse.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Look for News Articles from the NRA's "Firearms Gazette" at the Washington Post

Andrew Alexander, the Washington Post's ombudsman, gave an argument about the Post's use of copy produced by the Peter Peterson funded "Fiscal Times." This argument can also be used to justify the use of "news" stories generated by any "news" service created by an advocacy group.

As background, Peter G. Peterson is a billionaire investment banker who has been using his vast fortune to try to cut back and/or privatize Social Security and Medicare for the last two decades. He recently started the "Fiscal Times" as a new news service that reports on budget issues. His son, Michael Peterson, hired the staff. Coincidentally, the Post ran their first story from Peterson's news service on New Year's eve.

When Will the White House Wake Up?

Home Feature Box:

Congress may be gridlocked, but the Obama administration has the power, even without congressional action, to take on the CEO set — and the windfalls that are so enraging average Americans.

Congress may be gridlocked, but the Obama administration has the power, even without congressional action, to take on the CEO set — and the windfalls that are so enraging average Americans.

A year ago, movers and shakers at the upper echelons of the Democratic Party were celebrating the biggest congressional majorities for Democrats in a generation. Last week, in those same upper echelons, gloom and doom were reigning.

The immediate source of the unease: the surprise announcement that Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, a popular Democrat in a heavily Republican state, would be retiring at year end.

Frank Rich: The Other Plot to Wreck America

THERE may not be a person in America without a strong opinion about what coulda, shoulda been done to prevent the underwear bomber from boarding that Christmas flight to Detroit. In the years since 9/11, we’ve all become counterterrorists. But in the 16 months since that other calamity in downtown New York — the crash precipitated by the 9/15 failure of Lehman Brothers — most of us are still ignorant about what Warren Buffett called the “financial weapons of mass destruction” that wrecked our economy. Fluent as we are in Al Qaeda and body scanners, when it comes to synthetic C.D.O.’s and credit-default swaps, not so much.

What we don’t know will hurt us, and quite possibly on a more devastating scale than any Qaeda attack. Americans must be told the full story of how Wall Street gamed and inflated the housing bubble, made out like bandits, and then left millions of households in ruin. Without that reckoning, there will be no public clamor for serious reform of a financial system that was as cunningly breached as airline security at the Amsterdam airport. And without reform, another massive attack on our economic security is guaranteed. Now that it can count on government bailouts, Wall Street has more incentive than ever to pump up its risks — secure that it can keep the bonanzas while we get stuck with the losses.